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15 minutes with Michigan farmer, Carla Schultz

One of my favorite words is synergy.

Carla Schultz farms just two hours north of Detroit – in the thumb of Michigan – with her husband, Paul; their four children; and Carla’s parents. 

Together, they make up Eight Plates Farm, so named to indicate everyone has a place at the table.

“We want to encourage connections and to start a conversation,” Schultz says. “The name brings to mind thoughts of family, good times together at the dinner table, and the reality that it all started with a farmer growing the food.”

Schultz believes that table extends even beyond the home. With a strong social media presence and as a regular at markets in the suburbs of Detroit, she is able to connect with diverse audiences. “I love to listen to customers’ cultures, what they eat, and make the connection between food, home, and memories. It’s how I learn, too.”

Eight Plates Farm is also diverse. The Schultzes raise corn, soybeans, wheat, edible beans, cattle, hogs, and chickens.

SF: How do you raise your livestock and crops sustainably?

CS: One of my favorite words is synergy. And that goes hand in hand with sustainability because sustainability to us means taking all of the individual pieces and ensuring they work well individually but, more importantly, together. 

We realize there is a strong micro-organism community below the ground so most of our fields are no-till. We also implement cover crops. My husband always says, “Mother Nature never wants to be naked.” With our cattle, we practice rotational grazing. For us, that works really well. It’s a whole system where the manure that goes back into the soil feeds the microbes and the cattle then get high-quality forage all summer.

SF: What has been a success for you on the farm?

CS: This question hearkens back to family and our kids having a turn on the farm. Each of them has different strengths, and it’s so cool to see them involved on the farm. It teaches them accountability, especially with the animals. They have more responsibility because there is something living and breathing that needs to be tended.

The second success is the launching of Eight Plates Farm, which has been a fun adventure and has provided such meaningful connections. Sometimes you don’t realize, as a farmer, that people are looking for information and products. We’ve seen that with our online presence.

SF: What do you think is one of the biggest challenges in agriculture today?

CS: I think the reality that we can’t do everything, but we need to be more open and engage in conversation with each other. We can’t be against each other as farmers – we need to be on the same team.

For example, I will have some customers who want 100% grass-fed beef but for our operation, we are 95% grass and 5% grain because we want the marbling in the beef. I’m happy to send those customers to another farmer who can provide 100% grass-fed because that works for his farm. It doesn’t mean either of us is raising our cattle wrong. One size does not fit all.

SF: What is the best advice you’ve received?

CS: As you get older, you realize the importance of listening before you speak, and I mean really listening – not having your mind made up already with how you’re going to reply. Another one of my favorite sayings is, “When you fall, pick something up.” We’re all going to fall. But take a little piece of what went wrong and keep it with you. It will help you be better for the next time you fall. Years go by, and those little pieces add up to wisdom.

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